Throw Money At It 3: SEO and Initial Results

August 18


It’s been around three weeks since I started the “Throw Money At It” project, during which I attempt to build profitable sites by paying for all content and SEO and doing as little work of my own as possible, on the sites. In other words, I’m trying to “pay my way” to a profitable website, using content and SEO/link-building services.

In today’s update, I want to share some exciting initial results and tell you about the two most important factors that lead to great rankings for the sites in this project.

First (new) Commission!

There are currently three sites in the Throw Money At It project. #1 is a product-review site that’s already earning a steady income, #2 is a brand-new AdSense website and #3 is a product-review site that has been around for a while, but has never made any money (~200 clicks sent to a product that just won’t convert – time to change products).

On this last site, I added five new product reviews that I had ordered from one of my content sources. Only about a week after being added, most of these articles are already on the first or second page. Here’s a snapshot from my rank-tracking report:


Most of these keywords are what I’d consider “medium competitive”, since they are keywords for popular products, that have many affiliates building review sites and articles and competing for the top spot.

A few points to consider:

  • The fact that the content is very fresh helps. It’s not unlikely that those rankings would drop again, if I did no further promotion.
  • The keywords in question do not have very high search volumes, but they are “product name review” keywords, which are usually great in terms of conversions.
  • One of the reviews earned it’s first commission of $39, after sending just nine clicks through the affiliate link.

While the site is nowhere near recouping the roughly $1K investment I’ve made in it so far, I take this early first commission as a good sign.

What about the AdSense site? It’s filled up with a dozen pages of decent content and I’ve had several types of links built to it, but it has not reached any front-page rankings yet and traffic is still practically non-existant.

On-Page Optimization

If you’re wondering what kind of magical super-backlinks I used to make the rankings for site #3 shoot up like they did and maybe wondering why I didn’t do the same for the non-performing AdSense site, the answer is simple: there are no magical backlinks involved.

Free On-Page SEO GuideIn fact, the great ranking results site #3 is getting have almost nothing to do with backlinks. There are two “secrets” to those rankings that I want to share with you right now. Secret number one is what I call “Rich Content Optimization”. I’ve written a short guide on this topic, that you can get completely for free, here. In a nutshell, these are the elements I put on a page to get high rankings out of the gate:

  •  Lots of Content
    I’m talking about 800 words minimum for a page I actually want to get ranked in Google. 1000+ words is better, 2000 words is great. Google clearly favors content-volume these days.
  • Quality Content
    As explained in part 2 of this project, I use high-quality, well researched and well-written content only. Even though I still have a couple of sites with low-quality content that are doing okay and making me money, I’m doing far better with the sites where I’ve invested a bit more and published only the cream of the crop.
  • Images
    I use a minimum of two images per post or page (that’s excluding logo/header images or anything in the sidebars). Ideally, I want to have one image for each segment of an article, so that you can always see at least one image as you’re scrolling through the text. Images definitely help not only with rankings but also with user-engagement and conversions.
  • Lists and Formatting
    I try to have at least one part of the text in list-format, either as bullet-points or as a numbered list. I also use sub-headlines to segment the text. I don’t know if Google pays any attention to well-formatted vs. unformatted text. I suspect they do. What I know for sure is that good formatting can increase conversions dramatically.
  • Video
    If possible, I add one video to each of my target pages. Google is loving video right now and if you get a listing that includes a video-thumbnail, it does wonders for your click-through rates.

Here’s an example of such a video-thumbnail in the Google results:


All of the above makes for content that is way easier to get ranked and get good results from than your typical 300-words-for-3-bucks article or auto-scraped content. But there’s one more factor that comes into play and while I don’t like it, I can’t deny it.

Site/Domain Age

Ranking factor: domain ageFor my underwhelming AdSense site, I know that I need to add some more media (images, video) and tweak the formatting here or there, but what I also know is that rankings won’t happen over night. One big reason that rankings did happen more-or-less over night for site #3 is that this site is already more than one year old. The AdSense site, on the other hand, hasn’t even seen a full month pass, yet.

Apart from the amount and quality of content and apart from backlinks, site age is definitely an important ranking factor. It will take at least a few months before my new site gains Google’s trust, in my estimation. Until that happens, I won’t be going crazy on spending money for backlinking services. I will keep a steady flow going, but I don’t expect floods of traffic within the first few months.

I am considering experiments with aged domains or pre-existing websites, but haven’t made final plans yet. Maybe there’s something in there for a site #4? I’ll let you know if I decide to go ahead with this idea.

That’s all I have to report for now. As you know, SEO is a rather slow process, so I don’t expect anything dramatic to happen anytime soon. I do hope that I can get some top 5 rankings pretty soon and maybe a few more commissions. I will, of course, write another update, as soon as something worth reporting transpires.

All the best,

All Posts in the “Throw Money At It” Project:

  1. Part 1: The Project
  2. Part 2: Outsourcing Content
  3. Part 3: Real-World On-Page SEO – currently viewing
  4. Part 4: Results After Two Months

About ​Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better entrepreneur and product creator. Read more about my story here.

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  • Hey Shane,

    Love this series and looking forward to the updates.

    Since you’ve broached the subject of “aged domains”, I’ve got a question that I haven’t seen addressed in any of the material I’ve read on this topic.

    Let’s say I’ve got a domain I registered 3 years ago and just parked. No content other than the parking company’s stuff and no backlinks. It IS in the Google index.

    Now, does this domain count as an “aged domain”? Would there be an advantage to using this domain over registering a new one?

    Thanks for your thoughts on this,



    • Yes, as I understand it you’ll even receive a “bonus” if a domain was nothing but parked for a while.

      However, the best domains to use are those that don’t only have age, but also have some PageRank on the homepage. This requires that there’s an actual site for the domain.


  • Hi Shane,

    This would be my ideal situation to be in. Where you can outsource the majority of work like content creation, backlinking and just concentrate on the marketing.

    It is just tweeking and testing what works to find the sweet spot



    • Indeed.
      It’s a matter of scaling, IMO. I started out doing everything by hand and spending as little money as possible. Once I got some sites to actually start earning, it started making more sense to pay for things like content creation, rather than trying to do everything myself.


      • Thank you Shane, I appreciate your time AND YOUR HELP ,All the best! :)

  • Shane,

    Congratulations on your first commission, great stuff.

    Regarding aged domains, I have a few that I built and then left to their own devices. They have low page rank and several backlinks, but nothing to shout about.

    How fast or slow would you build backlinks to these sites? Does it matter to Google do you think and will they ‘flag’ the sites for suddenly getting hundreds of backlinks? Or as the sites have been indexed for a couple of years, would Google see them as ‘trusted’ sites and move them up the SERPS?

    Thanks in advance.



    • Hey Andy,

      If the sites have been sitting around for a while and they even have PR, you can hit them hard with new links. I’ve never seen a problem with that. It’s no different when a piece of content goes viral, which can produce tens of thousands of mentions and backlinks in no time at all. I think when we build links ourselves, we underestimate how small the scale of what we do is in comparison to the scale of organic, viral promotions…


      • Thank you Shane, I appreciate your time.

  • Hey Shane,

    Great post as usual. I do however think the Aged Domain with PR is one huge component you left out of this test. That probably should have been at the Top of your Throw Money At It list IMO. Sometimes I accidentally rank pages on my PR5 site that I use just for backlinks to boost my money sites. I think from here on out I likely will not start another blog that is not a PR4 or PR5 with and at least 1 1/2 to 2years old.

    Thanks again and keep up the great work.


    • Yes, I think you’re right.
      I’ve never used aged domains to build money-sites before. Not for any particular reason – it’s just not been part of my arsenal. But I do see that it would make a lot of sense.


  • Shane, I appreciate your article. I will appreciate assistance from you for my site optimisation.

    Thanks so much


  • Hi Shane,

    Thanks for your update. I have question regarding your adsense site. I came across this course and the author taught a method of spinning articles from article directory and feed the blog. In his opinion, the grammatical errors in the spun articles actually “encourage” the readers to click the ads on your website. You know, when they read the articles and they find errors and they get frustrated and just want to leave your site.

    Seems like you are going for quality content on your website. I agree that giving quality content would encourage your readers to buy, in affiliate marketing. I don’t want to be a spammer and flood the internet with low quality duplicated articles too.

    But what about adsense? If your article is good, will it actually lower the chances of your readers to click on the ads?



    • Hi Hazel,

      Well, in the hayday of MFA (made for adsense) sites, that’s how it worked: build up a lot of sites with ultra-low-quality content and put ads on them. People visit the site, see that the content is rubbish and either leave or click on an ad.

      The problem is that now, your chances of ranking with low-quality content are getting worse and worse.

      The content on an AdSense site doesn’t have to be nearly as engaging as the content on a review-style site, but it still has to be decent, IMO. My theory is that people are actually more likely to click on ads if the content is good enough to keep them interested for at least a few seconds. IMO the grammar should be good, the article should be readable, but the content isn’t totally compelling and the best kind of content on the subject. It’s just “good enough”.

      In short: the ads should still be more interesting than the content but I’m not betting on crap content anymore, especially since Google Panda.


  • Shhhh, people keep revealing that embedded video secret. :) I sure hope my competition isn’t looking. haha

    I’ve seen that REALLY help a lot. Is it video they like or video from YouTube they like?


    • Video in general. I’ve had Google pick up a Wistia-hosted video and give me a thumbnail listing, even without me providing a video sitemap, surprisingly.


  • I’ve seen time and time again that 1 year mark as a really important factor in a domain’s performance. And that makes sense since so many quick, dirty and impulsive domains are registered but left to drop if annual renewal doesn’t seem worth it.

    Goog seems to ‘probe’ a site at 1 year. I’ve seen a big 1-3 day spike where a mess of keywords open up and stop just as quickly – then about a week later – the floodgates open to many of the keywords you’ve been TRYING or HOPING to rank for.

    If and when no amount of quality content or link building seems able to get a young site to get consistent traction or take off – save your energies and focus on improving your other sites performing well and reserve your real push until after a struggling site’s 1st birthday.


    • Thanks for your input! I should probably give up on new domains all together because age really does seem to be a huge trust factor.


  • Hi Shane,

    Thanks again for the great info that you provide and your time invested into writing and posting it.

    Adsense site – I understand that images are great for review sites, but my understanding is that for adsense sites, I’ve heard that you should stay clear of adding images. Personally, I like images and think that they add to a sites credibility. However, I have been advised to keep them off my adsense sites.

    Video – Do you create your own video or do you use other’s video snips. I haven’t ventured into creating videos yet but would love to try. I feel technically inadequate when I hear “create a video” – arrggh. I would love to see you post a “How to…” on videos.



    • Hi Jacquie,

      If you’re worried about images distracting your visitors from the ads, then how about creating text-images? If you look at my post about fonts, you’ll see an example of this, where I display a pull-quote as an image. Another example are the large section titles in my “speed up WordPress” post. Those are also images.
      So, you can still have the SEO benefits of images without them being the kind of images that would be distracting. :)

      I do create my own videos in many cases. I haven’t made any how-to posts on video creation, I do have this little product here, though…

      A “shortcut” to creating videos without having to create videos is using animoto. Animoto videos are fancy, but not engaging and you can’t expect to get good conversions from them. I’m also worried that too many IM’ers might start using them and basically spam animoto videos all over the web. I think it’s already happening, to some degree. So, it’s not the ideal solution, but it’s better than nothing, i guess.


  • Hi Shane. When you have done this series you should make it a PDF, sometimes we know things but with all the new info coming we forget basics. Thanks for this good quality content.


  • I second that motion from J Wilson. A PDF would be a great help. Oh, and great content Shane. Love the effort and your willingness to share your results.



  • James Oliver says:

    hi Shane,

    yeah I agree on the Longer content factor – as well as a smart and smooth use of LSI terms rather than focus on keyword density of your main keyword (though following common best practices (title, meta descr., h1, h2, 1%-2% density is what i’m going on right now)…

    but I’m experimenting with both writing some of my own stuff this way – but also outsourcing articles to a variety of very pro sources specializing in this particularly Panda friendly 1000-2000 word length, lsi researched and included, very high quality articles (one service even writes your meta descriptions for you + finds images, crops/alters them and writes your alt tags – another important one of course)…

    BUT minimum for 1000 words of the 4-5 services i am experimenting with is about 19-20$ with the 2000 word super quality LSI one clocking in a 40 bucks – but I already know how well I can convert and what i can make for rankings on these terms – so starting to follow the new Panda best practices now, even before all sites have been hit that may still be, is a worthwhile (if expensive) recipe for what I think is actually a great opportunity if played right.

    And re: the expensive part – and this is still part of my own testing here for a number of sites with this type of outsourced premium grade content… but content like this is reportedly ranking MUCH easier with much less work (BLs/sharing etc) – if true I’m fine spending more on the content and less on the link campaigns….

    it DOES in the end mean a better user experience, and that’s what google wants anyways, right??

    good stuff – thanks for the ongoing case study!



    • James: What is your premium content source? It’s not all that expensive if it’s top quality content.

      Shane: You mentioned video.
      In my market, YouTube is slapping accounts without warning.

      Do you aim to get your own blog listed with the video thumbnail? And if so I guess that’s just hosting the video on your own blog.

      What plugin do you recommend to do that that’s lightweight, solid and SEO-friendly!


      • I am currently using Wistia to host all my videos. They are by far the best service I’ve used (and I’ve used many).
        Another option, which comes with a one-time price and lower recurring costs if you use Amazon S3 is Easy Video Player 2. It’s not as professional and not as easy to use, but good enough for some simple videos on a blog-style site.

        Getting my own site listed with the thumbnail is way better than getting a YouTube listing, of course. However, for super-competitive keywords, it’s usually easier to promote a YouTube video until it shows up in the results than to get your own site listed with a video.

    • Hi James. What content provider would you be referring to, sounds like a great deal.


  • Hey Shane, great write up and I’m really enjoying the series. A quick question about the on page seo section in regards to the video use you mention. I notice that the video thumbnail goes to your domain and it is not the common youtube or other video site link.

    I’ve been looking into this lately and admittedly I’m not up on video as I should be. I am aware of a marketer who I believe has a wp plugin that provides google with a video sitemap, and promotes that his plugin generates great rankings for self hosted videos. In turn, delivering video listings with thumbnails like yours with links going to the domain instead of a video hosting site.

    Would you mind commenting on how one goes about getting this or if you happen to be using this type of plugin? Or is it merely a matter of just hosting the video on your server and directing links to it…

    Thanks very much for your guidance.


    • The basics are: 1. Embed the video on your page and build backlinks, as you usually would, 2. provide a video sitemap (you can add one in Google Webmaster Tools).

      I haven’t found any really good plugins for this. Yoast is developing one, which I hope will be good. If you use Easy Video Player 2, you can create a sitemap with the tools provided and if you use Wistia (most professional and awesome video service I’ve ever used), they also have a sitemap creator.


  • @Rhab: What plugin are you referring to?

    @Shane: What plugin do you use add videos to your posts? JWplayer? Or Wistia avoids that issue altogether?

    My thoughts on Easy Video Player 2, which I use:

    1. It’s great for serving videos on landing pages. The code sometimes gets screwed up and your video does not show if you go in and edit your page without re-adding the video when you re-edit the page. I consider this a serious bug. EVP does not.

    2. It’s a serious pain to have a thumbnail on your video. Serious.


    • No plugins necessary, with Wistia.

      The problem may have to do with your CMS rather than with EVP2. For example, WordPress likes to modify your code when you switch from HTML to Visual editing and that can break code that you’ve inserted.
      The bigger problem with EVP is the loading delay. I’ve never found a fix to the problem that an EVP video can take one or two seconds before it even appears and starts loading. Espeically on sales-pages and squeeze pages, this can cost you a lot of money, because people might bounce or scroll down past the video before it even shows up.
      Wistia have amazingly fast startup speed on their videos, which is another point in their favor.


  • @Shane thank you for the reply Shane. I need to get into google webmaster tools more as I did not realize they had a tool for a video site map.

    @Andrew the plugin is from Mark Dulisse, forgive me I can’t think of the name of his product atm, but google should pull it right up.


    • GWT doesn’t have an app for creating video sitemaps, they just have a feature where you can officially submit a video sitemap. :)


  • So I’m assuming the video cannot be hosted on a free service (such as YouTube) for your homepage to get a video thumbnail?

    And any free sources to creating a video sitemap?

    Unrelated: Have any blog posts or references in blog posts about best ways to use OnlyWire?

    Just wanted to say also I love all your material and it’s really helped a lot.. I’ve been energized and gotten back into IM.. I’m lucky also that my site is 3+ years old.

    Thanks a lot,


    • Hi Daniel,
      Actually, the video can be a YouTube embed. You just need to give Google a good reason to list your site instead of the YT video directly (e.g. loads of backlinks to your page and good, relevant content to go with the video).

      I don’t currently use OnlyWire, so can’t help with that.

      I wish you all the best with your projects! :)


  • Interesting tip Shane on getting backlinks to your embed.

    But, I will say… YouTube has started slapping accounts in the home business market without warning and indiscriminately. This makes me VERY wary to continue getting backlinks into YouTube videos.

    Unless the videos are really “non-money and non-hypey” which may not gel well in your market.

    I decided to go with the Google Video Sitemap product above and host the videos on my own domain.

    With Panda liking # of indexed pages on your domain, I think the long term money is much smarter going this direction that building YouTube – which is essentially an asset that you don’t own and don’t have control over.

    Just my 2 cents.


    • For a while my youtube video was ranking really well.. until Panda I believe. I do have my videos hosted on my own.. I just wonder if there would be any benefit to embedding the youtube video.. since it has 400k views and a lot of comments..

      I want to create a video sitemap but $97 is out of my price range for the time being.


    • Yes, I agree.
      I’m only saying it’s possible, not that I recommend it. ;)


  • Hi Shane,

    I know you’ve recommended themes on a recent post, but have you got any ‘favourites’ for an adsense site? Thank you.


    • Hi Andy,

      Yes, for AdSense sites, my preference is to use the CTR Theme. It’s not free, but it’s great for AdSense sites.


      • Great stuff, I will take a look. I appreciate the reply.

        Thanks, Andy.

  • Hi Shane,

    Quick question … what are you using for your rank checking? Tried to find a review on imimpact – did I miss it?

    re: code mangling on wordpress – switching between html and visual editor. Try the sniplets plugin … Allows you to create shortcodes for more complex html. So the shortcode gets replaced with the html when the page is displayed.

    Thanks for a great site.



    • Thanks for the tip about the sniplets plugin, Rob!

      For rank tracking, I’m currently using a software thingy by Caphyon, but I’m not too happy with it.
      We’re currently completing a Rank Tracking app/service of our own, which will be part of SECockpit and also available separately.


  • Hi Shane

    Loving this throw money at is series.

    I used to do everything myself and after I went up to a certain amount of sites, I felt like I was loosing my mind.

    So now I “throw money at it”… It’s important to know what you’re throwing money at in the first place or you’ll waste money.


    I’m like the idea of adding long form quality content, with the images, video and bullet format.

    I used that kind of format for the home page of the site that’s the main target. Then use supplemental pages to help add fresh content and also interlink the pages.

    So awesome stuff. Keep the series going, still learning little nuggets.


    • Thanks for your comment!

      I’m glad to hear that this kind of a model is already working for you. :)


  • Shane, when you are embedding videos from You Tube, do you just use the regular embed iframe that Google gives you, or do you use a plugin? Is there some way to optimize the You Tube video embedding?



  • Hi Shane,

    I have just managed to catch up on this project to date and it is certainly food for thought. I guess the next question is what have you done in relation to backlinking?


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